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Berlin - Germany's capital of anti-Semitic crime

Darko Janjevic
August 8, 2018

Police register far more anti-Semitic offenses in Berlin than in any other German state, according to local German media. Berlin is a flashpoint for conflict, a representative of the city's Jewish community told DW.

Johann König Solidarity Hoodie mit Kippa Aufnäher
Image: Jakob Blumenthal/Jüdisches Musem

German authorities recorded at least 80 felonies directed against Jews in Berlin during the first six months of 2018,  Berlin-based Tagesspiegel reported Wednesday. The figure corresponds to nearly one-fifth of 401 such incidents nation-wide.

Berlin, which is both Germany's capital and one of its 16 federal states, registered almost twice as many anti-Semitic offenses as Bavaria, second in the national statistics with 43 offenses. However, Bavaria counts 12.5 million residents, in comparison to Berlin's 3.5 million.

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The high numbers for Berlin can partly be explained by local police cooperating with Jewish groups to better recognize and respond to anti-Semitism, according to Sigmount A. Königsberg from the Jewish Community of Berlin.

"The police officers are more sensitive about anti-Semitism, first of all," he told DW. "Secondly, Berlin is the hotspot of any conflicts happening in Germany."

Namely, various social movements and extremist groups are more active in Berlin than in other parts of the country, raising the risk of harassment for Jews.

The Jewish Community of Berlin also advises its members to maintain a low profile in public.  For example, kippa-wearing Jews are recommended to "hide it under a baseball cap, or if they are wearing a necklace with a Star of David, we ask them to put it under a T-shirt" to avoid verbal or physical abuse, Königsberg said.

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Usual suspects

Earlier this year, a viral video of a Syrian teenager attacking a kippa-wearing man in Berlin caused outrage in Germany and prompted a debate about anti-Semitism among Middle-Eastern migrants. The incident is believed to be one of four violent crimes noted in the report.

However, the police numbers published by the Tagesspiegel indicate that right-wing groups committed 62 out of 80 anti-Semitic offenses in Berlin. Authorities said that eight more attacks were motivated by "foreign ideology," which would include migrants attacking Jews out of hatred for Israel.

Separately, the police noted three more incidents with suspects motivated by "religious ideology", which usually indicates Islamist groups. Only three offenses were designated as leftist-motivated and four had no ideology behind them, according to the statistics.

Outdated rules for less Muslim attacks?

Königsberg, the Jewish Community of Berlin's anti-Semitism officer, believes a much larger percentage of anti-Semitic incidents were committed by Muslim extremists.

"I would say at least five out of ten anti-Semitic incidents have got a Muslim background. Sometimes even more – for example in schools it would be eight out of ten," he told DW.

The reason for the discrepancy, according to Königsberg, is that police are still using outdated classifications which sometimes mark offenses committed by Muslim extremists as simply "right wing."

For example, when participants at a 2016 Salafist rally showed the Nazi salute, "the police registered it as a far-right, Nazi incident," Königsberg told DW.

The authorities are aware of the problem and are currently working on updating their classifications, he added.

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Over 200 people hurt by far-right groups

The German government provided the numbers in response to a query by Left party lawmaker and Bundestag Vice President Petra Pau. However, the actual number of anti-Semitic incidents is likely to be much bigger due to delays in police procedure. For example, Berlin authorities reported only 67 such offenses for the first half of 2017 and 48 for the second, but later determined the total number of anti-Semitic incidents to in fact be as high as 288.

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Police also reported at least 7,693 incidents of far-right crime, both with and without an anti-Semitism link, across Germany in the first six months of 2018. Authorities say 374 involved violence and at least 201 people were hurt.

Extremists on patrol

On Tuesday, Bavaria's Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann warned that right-wing groups were conducting "militia-style patrols" in the state. Right-wing extremists were using fear of migrant crime, including fear of attacks on women, for their benefit, Herrmann said during the presentation of Bavaria's mid-year intelligence report.

Supporters of a neo-Nazi party "Der III. Weg" (The Third Way) were patrolling through Munich's central train station and the surrounding area, where mostly young migrants spend their time. An international far-right group called "Soldiers of Odin" is conducting similar activities in several other Bavarian cities, Herrmann reported.